Show cover of People Who Read People: A Behavior and Psychology Podcast

People Who Read People: A Behavior and Psychology Podcast

Understanding the behavior of other people can help us in our work, our personal lives, and in many everyday situations. Host Zachary Elwood talks to people from a wide range of fields about how they read people, predict behavior, and use psychology in their work. Popular episodes include: indicators of healthy and unhealthy relationships, interrogation strategies, reading poker tells, indicators of fake online reviews, and jury consultant strategies (to name a few). Political polarization and its causes is also a recurring focus. For more info, see


Is liberal bias impeding U.S. depolarization and conflict resolution efforts?, with Guy Burgess
A talk with conflict resolution specialist Guy Burgess, who, along with his wife Heidi Burgess, run the project Guy and Heidi wrote a paper in 2022 titled "Applying conflict resolution insights to the hyper‐polarized, society‐wide conflicts threatening liberal democracies." I talk with Guy about: how conflict resolution principles might be applied to U.S. polarization problems; the importance of addressing liberal-side contributions to polarization; the common objections people can have to seeing polarization as a problem that both sides must tackle; how some in the conflict resolution space may be hindered from helping by their own liberal bias and polarization; the Burgesses' ideas for what society must do to reduce polarization to more healthy levels, and more.Support the show
68:41 11/20/2022
The art of recruiting, with Blake Mobley
A talk with Blake Mobley about the business of recruiting: matching job seekers with companies that are hiring. Blake is the co-founder and managing director of recruiting company Keeper Recruiting, which specializes in biotech. Topics discussed include: what the process of recruiting is like; how Keeper goes about learning pertinent details about job seekers; the metrics by which recruiting companies are judged to be successful; the different "core motivators" people can have in their lives and how that relates to recruiting; personality tests; and Blake’s earlier career in the intelligence community and how he sees that relating to his recruiting work.  Support the show
54:03 11/18/2022
Dealing with anxiety and mental health issues as a college student
I was interviewed on Mahima Samraik's podcast Breaking The Facts about my struggles with anxiety and mental issues as a young man, which led to me dropping out of college in the middle of my second year of college. We talk about what that experience was like; recommendations for people dealing with similar problems; and the obstacles that can get in the way of getting help. Support the show
34:20 11/10/2022
Understanding madness, with Richard Bentall
A talk with psychologist Richard Bentall, author of the well known book Madness Explained, which examines the psychological causes of the symptoms associated with psychosis, schizophrenia, mania, and other mental issues. Topics we talk about include: the experiences and mental struggles that can lead to psychosis and other mental illness; how theories of mental illness have changed over time; pushback and criticism of psychology-focused explanations of mental illness; aspects of madness that most of us experience at some point; the role of feelings of isolation in madness; and the difference between beliefs and delusions. Support the show
54:28 11/04/2022
Reading tells in football, with Larry Hart
A talk with Larry Hart, a football coach at the University of Houston, and the author of the book The Recruit's Playbook. Topics discussed include: common behavioral patterns (tells) that are used to get an edge on opponents and teams; reading the signals that opponent coaches give to players; reading formation patterns; the importance of reviewing game tape; predicting how athletes will perform when one is recruiting them; and more.  Support the show
47:50 10/29/2022
The challenges and rewards of studying nonverbal behavior, with Alan Crawley
A talk with nonverbal behavior expert Alan Crawley, also known by his online handle Sin Verba ( Topics discussed include: why he became interested in behavior; the challenges of studying behavior; the practical benefits of studying behavior (including connecting better with others); irresponsible "behavior experts" who share bad information; and how to spot bad behavior information. Support the show
72:24 10/15/2022
How do we react when our sense of meaning is threatened?, with Steven Heine
A talk with Steven Heine about how we react to our sense of meaning being threatened. What happens when our mental frameworks of how the world works don’t hold up and things seem chaotic? What happens when our sense of what’s existentially meaningful in our lives is threatened? Topics discussed: Heine et al’s Meaning Maintenance Model; existential crises, including mid-life crises and adolescent angst; how polarization might be related to threats to meaning; positive aspects to our worldviews suddenly changing; and more. Support the show
59:40 10/10/2022
Is the entire world becoming more polarized?, with Andrew O'Donohue
A talk with Andrew O'Donohue, co-author of Democracies Divided: The Global Challenge of Political Polarization. Andrew has studied how societal conflicts play out in many countries, and the harm those conflicts inflict. Topics discussed include: why it is that political polarization is so common a state for humans; how polarization has played out in various countries; countries that can serve as comparisons for America in terms of polarization; the psychological drivers of polarization; the impact of social media and modern life on polarization, and more . Support the show
53:32 10/01/2022
Are eye movement patterns linked to personality traits?, with Sabrina Hoppe
A talk with Sabrina Hoppe about a 2018 study that showed how eye movements are correlated with personality. That paper was named 'Eye movements during everyday behavior predict personality traits.' We talk about how the study was set up, what the results were, how strong the correlations found were, reasons for why such patterns might exist, possible applications, and more. Support the show
42:06 09/21/2022
Is body language actually useful for detecting lies?, with Tim Levine
A talk with communication researcher Tim Levine about nonverbal behavior and deception detection. Tim's stance is that there's no evidence that nonverbal behavior is useful for detecting deception. He's the author of Duped: Truth-Default Theory and the Social Science of Lying and Deception. His work was featured in Malcom Gladwell's book Talking to Strangers.Topics discussed include: what the research says about nonverbal behaviors; why it's so hard to get reliable indicators of deception; common nonverbal behavior myths and bullshit; why we expect others to tell us the truth; why we tend to tell the truth; Paul Ekman's work, including micro-expressions and "truth wizards"; reading behavior in interrogations; the differences between analyzing verbal content and nonverbal behavior; the TV show Lie to Me; poker tells; and more. Support the show
77:37 08/30/2022
Reading "drug-seeking" behaviors, with Dr. Casey Grover
A talk with Dr. Casey Grover, addiction specialist and host of the podcast Addiction in Emergency Medicine and Acute Care, about how doctors attempt to determine if a patient is trying to get a drug prescription under false pretenses (e.g., claiming to be in pain to get opioids). Topics discussed: why "drug-seeking behavior" is not a good phrase; what some classic drug-seeking behaviors are and also why they're not very reliable; steps doctors take if they think someone might have a use disorder; America's drug problems, and more. Support the show
49:33 08/17/2022
Predicting psychosis and schizophrenia using language patterns, with Neguine Rezaii
This is a reshare of a 2020 talk with psychology researcher Neguine Rezaii. She and her research team used machine learning to find language patterns used by teenagers who were at risk of schizophrenia that were correlated with later schizophrenia diagnosis. The two language patterns found in the subjects' speech were 1) a low semantic density (i.e., low degree of meaning), and 2) speech related to sound or voices. Support the show
47:53 08/09/2022
Reading and predicting jury behavior, with Christina Marinakis (reshare from 2018)
A reshare of a 2018 talk with jury specialist Christina Marinakis about how she makes use of human psychology and human behavior in her jury consultancy work. Topics discussed: jury selection procedures; what jury consultants do; the relative importance of jury selection compared to the strength of the case; clues to potential jurors' beliefs and future behaviors from their body language, verbal answers, clothes, and more. Support the show
77:42 07/21/2022
How to spot fake online reviews, with Olu Popoola (reshare from 2019)
A reshare of a 2019 talk with forensic linguistic researcher Olu Popoola where we discuss indicators that online reviews are fake or genuine. We talk about his work analyzing indicators of deception, and talk about some research he did on Amazon book reviews. If you've ever read an online review and wondered "This seems fake, but how do I really know?", I think you'd enjoy this one. Support the show
58:54 07/06/2022
Group psychology, polarization, and persuasion, with Matthew Hornsey
A talk with psychology researcher Matthew Hornsey about political polarization and the psychology behind it. Other topics discussed include: why people can believe such different (and unreasonable) ideas; persuasive tactics; the importance of people criticizing their own group; why groups mainly listen to in-group members and ignore the same ideas from out-group members. Support the show
60:34 06/11/2022
Analyzing written and verbal statements for hidden meaning, with Mark McClish (reshare from 2018)
A rebroadcast of one of my most popular episodes: a talk from 2018 with Mark McClish, who's an expert in analyzing spoken and written statements for hidden meaning, and who's been a US Marshal and law enforcement trainer. He's the author of the books I Know You Are Lying and Don't Be Deceived. Support the show
58:01 05/22/2022
Behavioral indicators of healthy and unhealthy relationships, with Brandi Fink (reshare from 2019)
As part of an effort to share some of the best and most popular early episodes of my podcast, this is a rebroadcast of a 2019 episode where I interviewed psychology and relationship researcher Brandi Fink. We talk about behavioral patterns that indicate either healthy or unhealthy relationships, talk about analyzing video footage of interpersonal interactions, cultural differences in relationship dynamics, and more. Support the show
79:48 05/08/2022
Psychological effects of social media content moderation policies, with Bill Ottman
A talk with Bill Ottman, co-founder and CEO of the social media platform Minds, which is known for its minimal content moderation approach. Ottman and others (including Daryl Davis, a black man known for singlehandedly deradicalizing white supremacists) recently wrote a paper titled "The Censorship Effect," which examined how strict censorship/banning policies may actually increase antisocial, radicalized views. We talk about the psychology behind how increased censorship policies may increase grievances and anger, about Elon Musk buying Twitter and what it means, about the complexity of the problems we face, and about strategies they've used on the Minds platform. Support the show
71:17 05/01/2022
Are a majority of Americans actually racist?, with Leonie Huddy
A talk with political scientist Leonie Huddy on the topic of research on American racism and prejudice.  I was interested in discussing framings like this one from a 2012 USA Today article: "U.S. majority have prejudice against blacks" and ask her if such confident framings were justified based on the research, or if they were over-stated and irresponsible. Topics discussed: the ambiguity that can be present when attempting to study prejudice, especially for studies that seek to measure it rather indirectly; how worst-case and pessimistic framings and interpretations of studies and surveys can add to us-versus-them political animosity. Support the show
44:55 04/19/2022
Cryptocurrency, problem gambling, and addiction, with Paul Delfabbro
A talk with psychology and addiction behavior researcher Paul Delfabbro about cryptocurrency, problem gambling, and addiction. Delfabbro has worked on several papers related to cryptocurrency, including a paper titled "The psychology of cryptocurrency trading: Risk and protective factors" and one titled "Cryptocurrency trading, gambling, and problem gambling." Also discussed: the role of social media in amplifying addictions, day trading, and video game addiction. Support the show
48:17 04/10/2022
Why do people believe the U.S. election was stolen?, with Peter Wood
An examination of the reasons why people believe the 2020 election was "rigged," stolen, or otherwise illegitimate. This includes a talk with Peter Wood, a sociologist and political thinker and writer, who strongly believes that the 2020 election was stolen. Other topics discussed: election distrust by liberals (in 2016, for example), and how election distrust and chaos is a common endpoint for very polarized democratic nations. Support the show
88:59 03/17/2022
Detecting lies via facial muscles and machine learning, with Dino Levy
A talk with Dino Levy about his research team's research, which used monitoring of facial muscles and machine learning to detect lies at an impressive 73% success rate. Their paper was titled "Lie to my face: An electromyography approach to the study of deceptive behavior." We talk about the results, the possible explanations, comparisons to polygraph lie detection, and applications of this research and lie detection technology in general. Support the show
47:50 03/16/2022
How many Americans actually support political violence?, with Thomas Zeitzoff
A talk with political scientist Thomas Zeitzoff, who has studied political conflicts. We talk about survey results that show an increase in Americans' willingness to support political violence, and how that relates to our fears over future violent conflicts and "civil war" scenarios in America. Other topics discussed include: the psychology of polarization; the Ukraine-Russia conflict and the role of social media in that; the effects of social media on society in general. Support the show
56:02 03/05/2022
Studying poker tells scientifically, with Brandon Sheils
Brandon Sheils is a professional poker player who recently did a scientific study of poker tells as part of getting a Masters degree in Psychology. Topics discussed: the challenges of studying poker behavior; how he structured his study; what the results were; AI and machine learning potential for studying behavior; some times he's used behavior to make a poker decision. Support the show
54:35 02/16/2022
On how distance makes it easier to kill (and do other things), with Abe Rutchick
Abe Rutchick talks about his psychology research that showed that killing is easier at a distance, how the experiment was designed, and about antisocial behavior in general being more likely when at a distance. We talk about his research related to how people attribute moral responsibility when it comes to harm inflicted by autonomous self-driving vehicles. And we talk about some studies he worked on that involved poker.  Support the show
56:02 02/09/2022
On American polarization and being a black conservative, with John Wood Jr.
John Wood Jr. is a leader and ambassador of the depolarization group Braver Angels. He ran for Congress in 2014 as a Republican against Maxine Waters. Topics discussed include: the history of American polarization; us-vs-them behaviors of leaders on both political sides; what drew him to conservative politics; how traditional conservatism differs from the Trump brand of conservatism; what it's like being black and conservative; black American political thought; GOP efforts to make voting harder. Support the show
76:09 02/03/2022
The awe and the horror of existence, with existential psychologist Kirk Schneider
A talk with Kirk Schneider, an existential-humanistic psychologist and therapist, and the author of many books, including Existential-Humanistic Therapy, Awakening to Awe, The Polarized Mind, and more. We talk about: how existential psychology is about facing the givens of life (e.g., fear of death, isolation, meaninglessness, freedom) and why that can be so helpful to people; how our society tends to avoid talking about these deep questions and stresses; the psychology that drives extreme polarization and narcissism; and more. Support the show
56:28 01/28/2022
Using conversation analysis to make your language more persuasive, with Elizabeth Stokoe
A talk with Liz Stokoe, a conversation analysis (CA) researcher and the author of "Talk: The Science of Conversation." This is my second episode focused on CA. Topics discussed include: What are some of the most useful learnings from CA, in Liz's view? Does the common perception that men and women talk differently have much scientific support? How do the "turns we take" help define us in others' eyes? Why is the "most communication is non-verbal" concept wrong and yet so popular? What do people get wrong with their focus on "rapport"?  What can CA teach us about political polarization dynamics and how to persuade others or avoid angering others?  Support the show
53:54 01/15/2022
How many Trump supporters really believe the election was rigged?, with Tom Pepinsky
A talk with political scientist Thomas Pepinsky, who has studied, amongst other things, beliefs that elections aren't legitimate. Topics discussed include: How much can we deduce from U.S. surveys that show high distrust in election legitimacy (from both conservatives and liberals)? To what extent do Trump supporters really believe the 2020 elections were rigged? If Trump had succeeded in overturning the 2020 election, what would life in the U.S. be like? Support the show
63:56 01/06/2022
Inherent aspects of social media that amplify divides and bad thinking
This is a piece that I, Zach Elwood, wrote about the ways in which social media (and internet communication more broadly) may be amplifying us-versus-them polarization and extreme thinking.  Much of the mainstream coverage of how social media may be amplifying divides and making people unhappy is on product-specific features and algorithms. But what if there are inherent aspects of internet communication that amplify animosity and bad thinking, no matter the format or structure of the tool? What if "the medium is the message" in some way? This piece examines the psychological processes by which social media may be deranging us and talks about strategies for reducing unhelpful group-versus-group animosity. Support the show
39:04 12/28/2021